When The Office star John Krasinski set out to make a film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, he needed a way to connect the separate stories of the sometimes heinous characters that make up Wallace’s book. The actor-turned-director’s solution? A female grad student who interviews each of the men as part of a thesis project. While Krasinski used his personal network to track down the actors who portray the emotionally detached subjects of “Sara Quinn’s” study, he had one actress in mind for the role of the grad student as he penned his script: Julianne Nicholson, who was starring as Det. Megan Wheeler on Law & Order: Criminal Intent at the time. Last week, Hulu spoke to Nicholson to get her take on working with Krasinski. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor
Hulu: How did you prepare for the role of Sara Quinn?
Julianne Nicholson: Mostly, it was just talking with John, actually. He approached me and first sort of pitched the idea to me, and said that he loved the book and had done a reading of it in college, and was now adapting it. He said that he had me in mind while he was doing it, which was a huge compliment. I was doing another job at the time, also, so it was working with the material and the director, and just being a woman who has had relationships with men. I could draw from those.
Had you read the book beforehand?
I had not. I was a fan of the [David Foster Wallace’s] from his essays. I had read a number of his essays, which I had loved, but I had never read this book. I did after I read this script; I went back and read the book, also. I think he was amazing. I think he had an incredible hook, and if you can get into it — I had tried reading Infinite Jest , the massive tome that you would sort of see people lugging around everywhere. I had tried reading it, and I’m afraid I couldn’t really get into it at that time. I look forward to reading it — it’s still on my bookshelf. It’s still one of those that I know I will come back to. His essays proved a little bit easier for me. I thought they were incredible and very engaging. I had never read anything quite like it, with his style and his voice.
What did you think of John’s adaptation?
I thought he did a great job. It was interesting reading them in reverse. I thought he had done a great job of staying true to the original, but also creating a story, a link, through them. I don’t know if you’re going to talk to John, but he told me he had spoken — I think once — to David Foster Wallace, who I hear was sort of going back and forth on whether he wanted to hear John’s idea of how he would link it. When John told it was to create a new character, one that I wound up playing, I think that was the idea that Wallace had all along. So John picked up on that, I guess, and it had his blessing, which is also nice.
Can you tell us about Sara Quinn?
Sure. She’s just had a breakup herself that was very surprising and upsetting. She’s also doing her thesis, so she’s an academic. She’s in school, and she’s very smart and driven, but at a moment in her life where she’s just been rocked. She’s searching, I would say.
This role brought you in contact with a number of the actors who play the “hideous men,” and you shared scenes with likes of Timothy Hutton. What was that like — was the set as somber as the tone of the movie?
[Laughs] No, no. The set was never somber, especially because John Krasinski is one of the funniest people I have ever met in my entire life. Maybe there were one or two times where it called for quiet on the set, but I was usually in those scenes by myself, anyway. Everyone was so gung ho, and I think it started with John and his incredible energy and passion and intelligence and humor. It was quite a while ago, but it was great, getting to spend time with all those different people. It was such a gift, to be able to go to work and, you know, see someone new every day and watch them do their thing. It was very exciting to watch. I was the interviewer, so I was mostly listening. As you see in the film, I do a lot of watching and listening. It was great; I loved it.
You touched on this a bit, but what was it like working with John, considering his passion for the project?
It was such a treat. I was doing a television show at the time — I was doing Criminal Intent, which I loved, and it was very good to me. It was very exciting to go from — you know, Law and Order is a big working machine. To be able to go to these little stages with this smaller crew and just sort of be more quiet and collaborative was very exciting and so fulfilling for me. John was great. I wish I had some nasty story about somebody that I could share with you, but I’m afraid I just don’t.
What are you working on these days? I know you have two little ones at home, but will we see you back in the spotlight?
Well, I did a film last summer called William Vincent with James Franco and Josh Lucas, and that was just at Tribeca [Film Festival], and now they’re waiting for distribution on that — same old independent story. I’m also about to do a movie called Second Child. Have you seen this movie called The Maid last year? It was this Chilean movie, and everyone says “I’ve seen the poster!” It was such a great movie, and it got a lot great attention. This director is doing another, his first American film, hopefully in September.
Well, thank you for your time today — and good luck with the new project.
Thank you. I was so excited when I got that email that said we were doing well on Hulu!
Don’t miss our November 2009 interview with John Krasinski to learn more about this film.